Whenever people take time to reflect on tennis games, there are two that immediately jump to mind for most people, that is of course the classic on the SEGA Dreamcast Virtua Tennis and the now more recent Top Spin series. Both have received high accolades for their achievements; however Top Spin was not a perfect game, as much as I adored it!
Top Spin, graphically lovely, did have some annoying tendencies and this was most apparent when taking the title on Xbox Live. The ‘cheese’ factor of the risk shot decided most of the games outcomes as people used it in every shot of their rally, making it totally unrealistic and pointless for the more gentlemen players among us, who wanted a more realistic and sportsman like approach. This really did spoil the online enjoyment of the game, however it was still my favourite game on Xbox 1.
Now we have a brand spanking new Microsoft Xbox 360 console and a new Top Spin title (inventively called Top Spin 2 – sarcasm hey!), to sink our teeth into. So first of all, lets get rid of the controls issue.
The most important change throughout the entire game, is the way risk shots are dealt with, which will please many people including myself. Instead of the risk shot being triggered by our new favourite word, the ‘cheese’ factor, that is just tapping the right trigger with a bit of practice, which would hit the target point on the middle of the gauge, you now have to hit the target point at, and this is very important. the top of the gauge, which makes timing far more important and indeed more interesting. This makes online gaming far more entertaining as people now actually have to think about shot placement again, rather than brute force.
Although Top Spin fans will recognise a very similar control method, there have been subtle changes that make quite a large difference to how the game plays. A, B, X and Y trigger in order, safe shot, top spin, slice and lob just as before, however if you use anything other than the safe shot, you will need to get far more accustomed to keeping the ball in play. On the original Top Spin, depending on your statistics, you could easily keep ‘top spin’ shots in play, which is what I concentrated on myself, as I like to attack by using extreme angles in a rally and storming the net to finish off the point. The sequel is far more taxing, as you, (no matter how good your statistics are) have to consider how long you hold a particular angle on the controller. Holding just fractionally too long will result in a fault as the ball perilously disappears off screen. All of this however is great, and although we can all take comfort in strong similarities, enough has been changed to present you with a better challenge and more importantly, a ‘thinking’ game.
The career mode has had a massive overhaul. Instead of just over 10 stars to build up your personal custom characters statistics, you now have a whopping 60 bronze stars. As usual this is achieved through the training sections of the career mode, however the mini-games are entertaining and quite tough at times. What makes this a whole new ball game though is the fact that you also collect silver and gold stars which are awarded by completing tournaments. The career mode is a superb time spinner although your players statistics soon fill up before the career has ended, making the only reason left to complete the career is to grab a lot of achievement points for your gamerscore, which is a big shame.
The courts have been revamped for our new next generation console, however as nice looking as everything is, its not quite next generation. Now I hate the term next generation really, it doesn’t really tell you anything, but let’s rephrase the problem. It doesn’t look quite good enough over the original Top Spin. The professional players which now include the likes of Federer, Roddick, Williams and Sharapova, don’t look enough like their real life counterparts. Although the custom players have a mass of options to change the look and style and these look far better, as they do not attempt to match something in real life.
The playground courts are the shining heroes again in this title, bustling with activity as vehicles, people and animals inhabit the areas. The only problem is there are not enough of them! One thing that hasn’t been overlooked though is they have taken the time to get permission to use real event names. The grass event in London for example is now actually called Wimbledon and the courts look great, although still not quite good enough for our new console.
The playground courts feature their own unique music which fits with the destination they are located in. This is a nice feature and does make you play with a large grin on your face. The tennis sounds are fine, although the umpire that gives the scores is terribly broken as you notice very clearly that it has been put together by small snippets of sounds to complete a sentence.
As with any game, the online can add many more hours of action and enjoyment, and Top Spin is no different. With achievements encouraging you to play at least 50 games and win 25 of them, I would guess that most people who really love the Top Spin series, will still be playing until 100 odd. The career mode is far more satisfying, although the statistics could have been spread out more to encourage completion without any boredom.
Top Spin 2 is here and it is a superb title for any tennis fan. They have certainly spent a lot of time tweaking the gameplay mechanics to create something more entertaining and more importantly, fair online, however there are still some minor quibbles that will displease.
All in all Top Spin 2 is a very good sequel and for any fan of the original, this is a must purchase, just don’t expect totally mind blowing graphics. As good as they look, they are not quite there yet!